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THE FIRST HEADMASTER (1805)

The Union Charity School in Middle Street was founded in 1805, and was the first public elementary  school in Brighton. Until the 1870s there was just one master in charge of 100-200 pupils, with a system of older children acting as 'monitors' to help teach and control the other children.

Mr. John George Bishop, an old-boy of the school described the first headmaster as follows:

“Mr. Sharp – a man of sterling worth – was the first Master of this school. He was however a strict disciplinarian, and some of his modes of punishment were decidedly original. In addition to the orthodox ‘strap’ and ‘birch’, the ‘dunce’s cap’ and the ‘red tongue’ for talkers, there was for the incorrigibles a ‘wooden collar’ – an unpleasant necklet; and for the truant, a ‘log’ – this latter a veritable log of wood some 3 ft long, which, chained to the leg, had to be dragged by the truant several times around the school, amid the ill-concealed scoffs and jeers of his fellows. Then there was the ‘basket’ – about a four-bushel one – which used to hang with a long rope attached, in terrorem, from one of the beams in the school, and when used for punishment was lowered to receive the urchin in disgrace, who, being placed in it, was drawn up to a certain height, and then for some time spun round or swung to-and-fro by other boys! Verily school-boys now-a-days have advantages over their predecessors in modes of punishment!"

One of Mr. Sharp’s methods of teaching the alphabet to the more juvenile aborigines was ‘racy of the soil’, namely a ‘sand class’. A wooden trough filled with sand was placed before the youngsters and when suitably smoothed with a board, the monitor drew some letters in the sand with his fingers or taught the little one to do so, and when they had become familiar with these, the smoothing board was again passed over the sand and other letters made, and so on until the whole alphabet was mastered."

To see photographs of the only surviving 'monitorial system' school - which must look very similar to how Middle Street looked at this time, click on this picture:

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